Should a Catholic School admit LGBTQ students or refuse the benefit of a Catholic education to this particularly vulnerable subset of children? Such is the choice with which those responsible for Catholic education seem to be presented, and, increasingly, they will opt for the former. Apparently, this is the path chosen by Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, MO, who reportedly set up a task force last fall to draft guidelines for the admission to Catholic schools of those who “identify as LGBTQ.”
Fortunately, this tricky dilemma is, in reality, a false dichotomy. In other words, there is a third option, which is the authentically Catholic route to take.
To discover the third option, one must realize that the expression “LGBTQ students” is an ideologically loaded term. It lumps into one group all the children whose attractions and inclinations in this area do not correspond to what is expected from their biological sex, labeling them as members of the “LGBTQ” community. Even if the term “LGBTQ students” is only understood as referring to those children who willingly “identify as LGBTQ” or “decide to present as the opposite sex,” the term presupposes that persons have a right to consider themselves “gay” or “bisexual” or “transgender” and to be treated accordingly. This is precisely what a correct understanding and application of Catholic teaching precludes, as it does not consider such inclinations a true reflection of our God-given nature (cf. CCC 2358).
It does not appear that the draft of the guidelines, dated May 9, 2017, has been officially released by the Diocese of Jefferson City, endorsed by it or even acknowledged as genuine. Nonetheless, the document is instructive as an example of how a Catholic diocese might approach this question, and, more precisely, how it should not do so.
The document is divided into two main sections. The first, which is not our present concern, deals with children from “non-traditional” families: same-sex, cohabiting, divorced and civilly remarried, and so forth. The second section addresses the issue of children with “gender concerns.” This latter section considers three main scenarios: the case of a student who “comes out as LGBTQ,” that of a currently enrolled student who “decides to present as the opposite sex,” and that of an “openly transgender student” who seeks admittance to a school or parish program.
Most of the recommendations in the guidelines are perfectly fine, such as the encouragement given to “affirm this young person’s identity as a child of God” and to ensure that such children be treated “with compassion, sensitivity and respect.” Other points are rather vague, such as “prudence and subsidiarity need to be exercised” and “balance pastoral considerations with doctrinal correctness and mission integrity.” The main objection, however, as indicated already, is the failure to distinguish clearly between children who are experiencing “gender concerns” and those who “come out” or “present” these concerns publicly, demanding, even implicitly, that their condition be recognized and accepted as non-problematic.
This is a rather subtle point, which is why it appears to have been completely overlooked by the guidelines in question. It can be grasped by recalling the term coined by the late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi: “non-gay homosexual.” This term indicates that experiencing same-sex attraction is one thing, and embracing the situation as one’s true identity or nature is another. In fact, the attitude of the child to his or her “gender concerns” is the key to assessing the child’s suitability for participating in a Catholic institution. However, by employing the labels “LGBTQ” and “transgender,” instead of “experiencing same-sex attraction” or “gender dysphoria,” the document seems to endorse the prevalent view that these inclinations are a reality to be openly accepted, perhaps even celebrated, rather than a distortion of the natural order requiring discreet attention.
A significant number of students and applicants to Catholic schools will be emotionally wounded and confused about their sexuality. They deserve assistance so as to mature in a healthy and moral manner, and a Catholic school, ideally, would be the perfect environment for this. In theory, those who work there should be well versed in Catholic teaching. Moreover, they should be aware of the counseling alternatives consistent with a sound anthropological vision (something which the guidelines do mention). Both teachers and fellow students, imbued with genuine Christian charity, should be eager to assist those who are struggling to assume the sexual roles consistent with their nature. This will be expressed in the simplest ways, such as, when a teammate on the baseball team does not jeer “you throw like a girl” but says rather “I’ll practice with you, until you’re good enough for first string.”
Catholic schools should be ready to help this vulnerable group of children for many reasons, but, especially, because today nobody else will. The secular world only encourages them to follow the path of least resistance, rather than to fight against the sexual disorientation that has developed in their young lives, through no fault of their own. The Catholic school, on the other hand, can help them to become who they truly are, to avoid a path that leads to sin, and to attain instead authentic dignity and happiness.
So, returning to the dilemma posed at the outset, it is not that Catholic schools should refuse to educate such children, but only those who choose to identify as LGBTQ. In other words, only those who insist that this is their true identity, who are not open to a different viewpoint, or who make public claims by word or action that amount to “coming out,” should be refused entrance or asked to leave. Such claims are already a departure from authentic Catholic teaching and practice and would be scandalous to other children. Those students, however, who are simply struggling with these issues and do not wish to make them public but are instead seeking—often heroically—to follow the Christian moral life, should be assured that Catholic schools are there to welcome and assist them.